Max Martin and his Melodic Math Formula

Max Martin is a music producer responsible for some of the biggest hits out there. His melodic math formula for writing music consists of a few key features: write the melody first, keep it simple, fit the syllables to the notes, then the lyrics are implemented into the equation.

If you haven’t heard of Max Martin before, you will be very surprised to see the number of famous songs he co-wrote and co-produced.

From Britney Spears’ signature hit Baby One More Time to Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl and Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, Max Martin has co-written more than twenty Billboard Hot 100 number one songs, amassing an impressive net worth of about $260 million.

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1971, under the real name of Karl Martin Sandberg, the songwriter-to-be rose to fame at the end of the Nineties. His path in the musical world, however, started way earlier, as the frontman of a glam metal band called It’s Alive, which managed to get the attention of Dave Constable at Megarock Records.

The failure of their second album, released under the BMG affiliate Cheiron Records, led Martin to meet and work with producer Denniz PoP, who encouraged him to pursue a songwriting and producing career in the pop field. After being hired by the label, Martin had the chance to work with Backstreet Boys in 1996, the year their debut self-named album was released.

Songs he co-wrote and produced

After the first collaboration with Backstreet Boys in 1996, Max Martin would end up co-writing and co-producing many hits for the popular boy band, including As Long As You Love Me and most songs from their third album Millenium. Later on, he kept working with them, even in very recent times, as in the 2013 single In A World Like This.

Martin worked with many other bands and pop stars, including Westlife (I Need You, You Make Me Feel, When You’re Looking Like That), Céline Dion (That’s The Way It Is), Avril Lavigne (Alone, I Will Be), Christina Aguilera (Your Body, Let There Be Love), Britney Spears (most songs from the albums …Baby One More Time, Oops!…I Did It Again, and Britney, but also a few more recent tracks), Pink (Who Knew, So What, Raise Your Glass), and many more.

His style and influences

Max Martin is a versatile producer and songwriter, able to work with pop stars, but often keeping his roots in more rock and gritty sounds (as we can hear in the work he has done with Pink).

In 2016, Martin won the Polar Music Prize and during the ceremony, he indicated who his four main influences are: ABBA, Kiss, Prince, and Lasse Holm. With this clarification in mind, it is no longer a surprise to hear how his music sounds so versatile.

His legacy

Max Martin is considered a master in the craft of songwriting and production for pop music. He has influenced several younger songwriters and producers, such as Dr. Luke and Shellback.

After the death of Denniz Pop, Martin, who had become the artistic director of the company, decided to shut down Cheiron Records and founded his studio and label Maratone, which became a great training facility for young and talented producers. In a way, Martin gave back to the world what his mentor PoP had given him, becoming himself a great inspiration for younger musical minds.

Savan Kotecha, one of his disciples, stated that Martin’s main teaching probably pertains to the composition of melodies. The attention paid to the melodies, which should always sound easy but without becoming commonplace, is one of his trademarks and also the reason behind his incredible success.

The Melodic Math Formula

After reading this success story, you may end up thinking: “There can’t be a formula for success. This guy was just lucky.” Well, you would be so wrong!

Max Martin actually revealed he adopts a not-so-secret formula for writing catchy, successful melodies, which is called melodic math. How does it work?

  • Firstly, he writes a melody. Lyrics come later and they serve the melody. It is never the other way around. The melody is simple and nothing too complicated to keep the listener listening and not run away.
  • When it comes to lyrics, then, they don’t have to be necessarily meaningful, as the melodic aspect is considered the most important one in a song. However, they must follow specific metric rules, to have a good rhythm and give a nice sense of repetition that will keep the listener engaged. If a line has a certain number of syllables, for example, the next one should be its “mirror image”.
  • As for the song structure, the chorus should come up within the first 50 seconds of the tune and the overall song pattern should include no more than 3 or 4 individual parts. This helps to keep things smooth and easy, as the main goal in songwriting, in the words of Martin himself, should always be clarity. After all, almost any producer knows that less is more.
  • Last but not least, the Melodic Math Formula aims at creating a nice balance, alternating rhythms, melodic patterns, and progressions to achieve a certain sense of symmetry and completeness in the song.


Max Martin is surely an inspiring example of how refining the craft of songwriting and production can lead anyone to incredible success. Practice and hard work are essential key points in the process. Also, finding the right mentor can help you maximize the results and get at a good point quicker.

The most important trait you should develop if you want to become a successful songwriter and producer is curiosity: don’t take anything for granted and don’t be afraid to ask. This is the only way to progress in such an exciting, but also the hugely competitive world.

Featured Image by Näringsdepartementet / CC BY

Backstreet Boys – Image by: Joel Telling from Snohomish, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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